Career & Education

Teens more prone to suicide at Christmastime

Sunday, December 17, 2017

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Tis the season of 'joy and good cheer', or at least that is how the holidays are portrayed by most.

Nonetheless, just as with many adults, there are some teenagers who struggle with feelings of sadness and despair, especially at this time of year. In fact, the feelings can worsen during this season, with statistics showing that the general suicide rate is higher in December than any other month.

Please note, however, that if you suspect that your child is depressed and not just 'sad', this warrants medical attention. There is a medical difference between 'sadness' and 'depression'.

These feelings can result from events such as:

• Loss of a loved one

• Parents recently separated or divorced

• Lack of social connections

• Loss of a parent's job

• Financial insecurity

• Being a victim of abuse or bullying

• Loneliness

• Breakup with a love interest

• Poor grades in school

Social media is also another factor that can lead to unhappiness in teens. The holidays tend to focus on 'picture perfect moments' with family and friends having a good time. Teens may see photos of friends appearing to have a terrific time with family, friends, at parties etc, and may feel alone and left out. Of course, social media is all about perception, and most of the time it is not a true reflection of what is going on in these other people's lives. Young people, and even some adults, lack the maturity to recognise the mirage that is social media and so may be negatively affected by what is portrayed.

Sadness is a personal feeling and should not be judged. What makes one person feel sad may not affect somebody else, but this does not mean that the feelings are not real.

During the holiday period, it can be especially hard for teens who are struggling emotionally to cope as they see others appearing joyous and happy. They may feel that they have no one to turn to or that they are bringing down others around them. Post-holiday sadness is also something that can occur and for which parents/caregivers should be on the look-out because we play a critical role in detecting the warning signs of a teenager in trouble.

Recognising the signs

• Lack of appetite

• Insomnia

• Oversleeping

• Skipping activities that normally interest them

• Moodiness

• Irritability

• Poor concentration

• Expressing sadness and hopelessness

• Self-inflicted injury

• Talking about suicide

• Drug or alcohol abuse

• Tearfulness or frequent crying

Suggestions for Parents Dealing with Sad Teens

• Listen to your child — It is important not to criticise or pass judgement once your teen begins to talk. Let your teen know that you are listening and that you empathise. Ensure that he or she knows that your love is unconditional.

• Be persistent — If your teen shuts you out, do not give up. Keep trying to communicate. Teens may have a hard time expressing their feelings, so be gentle and caring.

• Acknowledge their feelings — Do not belittle your child because he or she feels sad or depressed. Take their emotions seriously and show care.

• Fight social isolation — Encourage social interactions and do what you can to keep social connections alive.

• Get involved in activities — sports, music, cooking and other after-school activities promote self-esteem and enthusiasm.

• Exercise — physical activity is critical to mental health. Ideally, one hour of exercise per day should help to take your teen out of the blues. Exercise does not have to be boring, it can involve dancing, walking the dog, riding or football.

• Eat a healthy diet — The holiday festivities tend to encourage overeating, which can led to the worsening of sad emotions. Try to stick to a balanced diet which is essential for brain health. Healthy fats, quality protein, vitamins and minerals all help in mood stability. Limit sugary and starchy food. Teenagers should stay from alcohol altogether.

• Encourage adequate sleep — Enough cannot be said about the value of good quality sleep. Lack of sleep is a major contributor to feeling tired and lethargic and may promote increased rates of depressive symptoms. Your teen should be getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. Try to stick to the regular sleep routine with just a few exceptions for those holiday parties.

• Seek professional help — If you believe that your child is depressed, do not hesitate to get professional assistance. General practitioners, psychologists or psychiatrists are trained in addressing issues of depression.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or .

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